by the Sandwichman
"'Well,' says a workingman, 'I should certainly be very glad to work less hours, but I can scarcely earn enough by working ten to make myself and family comfortable.'
"Sir, as strange as it may seem to you at first blush, it is a fact that your wages will never be permanently increased until the hours of labor are reduced."
I would like to open a can of worms and call into question the assumed divergence between environmentalism and consumerism. I am as guilty as anyone of promoting the idea that economic growth is bad or obsolete. But I have been reading extensively in the 19th century literature of the eight-hour movement. The first shock I got was discovering that "keeping up with the Joneses" was an Ira Steward invention. Steward was the author of first two sentences quoted before the jump.
I've been reading Steward, George Gunton, their critics and defenders through the prism of a century's worth of disparagement of the "old, old fallacy that eight hours a day will mean more men to be employed." I'm beginning to realize that the opponents of the eight-hour movement not only suppressed an astonishingly advanced economic theory, they also usurped and defiled the accomplishments and the aspirations of the movement. This is not to say that Steward and Gunton got everything right but there is an immense amount to learn from their writings and legacy.
Getting back to the argument about higher pay, at first glance it wouldn't seem to be in accord with the admonition of my friends in the Work Less Party to "work less, consume less, enjoy more." I propose that the solution to this riddle is that we don't need to consume less. We actually need to spend more.
Our culture's unsustainable environmental footprint doesn't come from consuming "too much" but from consuming the wrong things -- cheap crap. Ironically, the reason we're consuming the wrong things is because wages are too low. WE CAN'T AFFORD the good life. What Juliet Schor identifies as "overspending" could better be viewed as throwing money away on disposable stuff because we don't have sufficient time or income to indulge in uplifting AND MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE social activities such as, say, taking five years off work to write a book, paint, sing in the opera, or play soccer.
One of the things that struck me as I was comparing Cambridge Professor Alfred Marshall's writing to that of Boston mechanic, Ira Steward, is that the truly innovative thinking usually comes from outside the academy. An inordinate amount of the output of professional intellectuals consists of obscurantist rationalizations and repetition of the obsolete or the obvious. How many people would like to have the time and financial security to really develop their artistic talent, athletic ability or scholarly interest without it having to be a perilous and constricting career track?
So I'm tempted to say, "Sir, as strange as it may seem to you at first blush, it is a fact that your way of life will never become environmentally sustainable until your wages are increased as a result of the hours of labor being reduced."